I was taught that a colon never, ever follows a verb: it can follow only a complete sentence. Does anybody on this site support this type of usage? Can anybody provide links or examples of colons used after verbs? Have you ever used the colon in this manner in your writing?

I did some investigating this afternoon and unearthed some interesting information.

The Handbook of Good English and Merriam Webster's Standard American Style Manual support colons after to-be verbs. Awesome! This debunks the myth that colons cannot be used in this way. Does anybody agree with this? Two strong sources support this principle.

The Handbook of Good English by Edward D Johnson

The question was, did he like zucchini? is correct; the past tense of the question may seem to make it indirect, but it is still direct. Note that did is not capitalized; it could be, and some editors routinely capitalize in such a situation, but a capital is a surprise after a comma and in the example would give the question more independence and emphasis than the writer may want it to have. Note also the comma after was, needed to set up the question, almost as a weak colon.

We could, of course, actually use the colon and capitalize after it: The question was: Did he like zucchini? Or we could add quotation marks—which makes changing the tense desirable—and then would need no punctuation before the question The question was "Does he like zucchini?" These alternatives make the sentence rather stately, almost dramatic; the writer may prefer the smoother, more casual The question was, did he like zucchini?

Merriam Webster's Standard American Style Manual

The Interrupting Colon (as they call it)

Opinion varies regarding whether a colon should interrupt the grammatical continuity of a clause (as by coming between a verb and its objects). Although most style manuals and composition handbooks advise against this practice and recommend that a full independent clause precede the colon, the interrupting colon is common. It is especially likely to be used before a lengthy and complex list, in which case the colon serves to set the list distinctly apart from the normal flow of running text. With shorter or less complex lists, the colon is usually not used.

MWSASM Example:

Our programs to increase profitability include: continued modernization of our manufacturing facilities; consideration of distribution terminals; discontinuation of unprofitable retail outlets; and reorganization of our personnel structure, along with across-the-board staff reductions.

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    “No colons after a verb” sounds like an artificial or oversimplified rule invented by uptight grammarians. While colons do usually separate a clause from a list or another clause: there are exceptions, and there's no reason why the introductory clause can't end in a verb. This is like the rule about split infinitives and ending with a preposition. Feb 26, 2014 at 22:23
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    I'm with Bradd. I used to feel compelled to include the words "as follows" or "as the following" (or something similar) before a list preceded by a colon, but hey, why use the same old same old just because of some silly rule? Being a bit pragmatic, I'd rather ask, "How well does the sentence scan? Am I being clear and understandable?" Other factors to consider might include the following: blah, blah, blah; blah, blah, blah; and blah, blah, blah. Or how about no colon: Other factors to consider might include consistency of usage, blah blah blah, or even blah blah blah. Feb 26, 2014 at 22:35
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    I think I'd prefer bullet points for clarity. Though some would say that 'the style is then wrong'. Uptight grammarians? Feb 26, 2014 at 23:05
  • 1
    Yes. The personification of prescriptivism. Feb 26, 2014 at 23:06

1 Answer 1


This may be more of an extended comment than an answer, but the cited rule (if I understand it properly) seems illogical. Sentences can end in verbs. So, if colons can come after complete sentences, then colons can come directly after verbs.

For instance, here’s a sentence from this week’s Economist:

Lviv displays formidable discipline and self-organisation in its self-policing: taxi drivers use their radios to report anything suspicious.

If we replace in its self-policing with in how it self-polices, then we have a verb directly followed by a colon:

Lviv displays formidable discipline and self-organisation in how it self-polices: taxi drivers use their radios to report anything suspicious.

Here's another example of one of their sentences and a paraphrase that ends up with a verb + colon:

But the two sides should not overdo it: they need each other.

But the two sides should not exaggerate: they need each other.

Maybe the rule needs rephrasing—or abandoning.

  • The "rule" is not that a colon should not come after a verb, but that a colon should not come after a clause that could not stand by itself as an independent sentence. Your example clauses that end in verbs can stand as independent sentences and therefore the colon use is fine by the rule.
    – NES
    Nov 27, 2015 at 8:35

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